CONCLUDING GENERAL DEBATE ON JIU REPORTS, FIFTH COMMITTEE HEARS CALL FOR FEWER REPORTS, SHARPER FOCUS

9 October 2001
GA/AB/3455

CONCLUDING GENERAL DEBATE ON JIU REPORTS, FIFTH COMMITTEE HEARS CALL FOR FEWER REPORTS, SHARPER FOCUS

09/10/2001
Press Release
GA/AB/3455


Fifty-sixth General Assembly

Fifth Committee

5th Meeting (AM)


CONCLUDING GENERAL DEBATE ON JIU REPORTS, FIFTH COMMITTEE

HEARS CALL FOR FEWER REPORTS, SHARPER FOCUS


The Joint Inspection Unit (JIU) must narrowly focus its work and produce recommendations that could be expeditiously implemented, the United States representative told the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) this morning, as it concluded its general debate on the Unit’s reports.


[The JIU is an external oversight body which makes recommendations on improving management and coordination within the United Nations system.  Although a mechanism for follow-up on the Unit’s recommendations was recently approved by the General Assembly, several of the reports before the Committee point out that few specific actions are taken on the Inspectors’ proposals by its participating organizations.]


Continuing, the United States representative noted that the JIU had rightly pinned much blame for the lack of action on Member States.  In the last year, however, the Committee and the Assembly had acted on several reports, in some cases, endorsing all the Unit’s recommendations.  The Unit should ease the burden on the governing bodies of the United Nations system by providing recommendations that were implementable.


Agreeing that it was important for JIU not to overextend its mandate or capacity, the representative of Canada (speaking also on behalf of Australia and New Zealand (CANZ)) said that, in general, the Unit’s report card was mixed.  In several instances, it had been able to play a positive role in encouraging reform of the Organization, while in others its reports lacked the same weight and impact.  Adequate attention should be given to the formulation and monitoring of pertinent recommendations.  CANZ’s preference would be to see fewer, well-focused reports with an emphasis on follow-up provisions.  He was concerned that the Unit’s proposed work programme for 2002 and beyond would cover areas that had already been studied or would reach beyond the Unit’s prescribed mandate.


Also on the implementation of the Unit’s recommendations, the representative of the United Republic of Tanzania said there was no doubt that the JIU was doing its best to execute its mandate, but what was the point of preparing numerous reports that could not be implemented?  Most of the Unit’s reports were only “taken note” of.  That was a serious issue that needed to be further addressed. 


Several speakers in today’s debate also stressed the need to place greater emphasis on cost savings in producing the Unit’s reports.  Among other issues addressed in the debate were proposed staff changes within the Unit, communications with the host country concerning proposed reconstruction of United Nations Headquarters, JIU recommendations regarding outsourcing, and “selective compliance with JIU recommendations”.


At the end of the meeting, the Committee also concluded its discussion of the proposed regulations governing the status, basic rights and duties of other than Secretariat officials and experts on mission.


The representatives of China, Syria, India and Cuba also addressed the Committee.


Responding to questions from the floor were:  the Chairman of the JIU, Sumihiro Kuyama; JIU Inspector Francesco Mezzalama; the Director of the Facilities and Commercial Services Division of the Office of Central Support Services, Andrew Toh; the Principal Officer of the Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC) secretariat, Gary Gabriel; and Maria Vicien Milburn of the Office of Legal Affairs.


The Committee will meet at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 10 October, to hear a statement on the financial situation of the United Nations by the Under-Secretary-General for Management.


Background


The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) continued its consideration of reports of the Joint Inspection Unit (JIU) introduced yesterday, as well as proposed regulations governing the status, basic rights and duties of other than Secretariat officials and experts on mission.  [For details, see Press Release GA/AB/3454 of 8 October 2001.]


Statements


MICHEL DUVAL (Canada) speaking also on behalf of Australia and New Zealand (CANZ), said the report card before the Committee was mixed. In several instances, the JIU had been able to play a positive role in encouraging reform of the Organization, while in others the Unit’s reports lacked the same weight and impact.  It was important that the Unit did not overextend its mandate or capacity.  It must ensure that adequate attention was paid to the formulation and monitoring of pertinent recommendations.  CANZ’s preference would be to see fewer, well-focused reports with an emphasis on follow-up provisions.  He was concerned that the Unit’s proposed work programme for 2002 and beyond would cover areas that had already been studied or would reach beyond the Unit’s prescribed mandate.  That included proposed analyses of peacekeeping operations, drug-control activities, the impact of zero-nominal-growth budgets and the practice of attaching conditions to special-purpose contributions. 


The work on building management was both helpful and timely, he said.  Further analyses in other parts of the United Nations system, not covered in the report, would be welcome.  He concurred with many of the report’s central messages, including the recommendation that qualified staff and strict controls were important in monitoring capital expenditure flows and project milestones.  He was deeply concerned, however, by the Unit’s observation that methods of office space allocation at Headquarters were irrational.  It would be essential, as a first step, to achieve rational space allocation in existing premises, based on uniformly applied standards, before new requirements could be determined and additional resources committed for capital expenditure.  More complete details on the implementation of JIU recommendations with which the Secretary-General had agreed would have been helpful. 


Ensuring that United Nations organizations derived maximum benefit from their use of private consulting services was clearly a worthwhile objective, he said.  In that respect, he concurred with a number of the suggestions in the Unit’s report on that issue.  Although it was important to retain a degree of management flexibility, that did not have to come at the expense of transparency or fiscal accountability.  The establishment of common services was an integral part of the Secretary-General’s reform efforts.  While both the remarks of the Secretary-General and the Unit indicated some progress had been made in the establishment of a network of common services at Geneva, much more remained to be done.  


THOMAS REPASCH (United States) said it was appropriate that oversight was the first issue before the Committee.  The JIU was the only body with the mandate to review programmes across the board.  Oversight was important not only as a rule to ensure that internal controls were in place, but also to inform Member States that the programmes they had authorized were working effectively.  He did not have major comments on the JIU’s annual report and he noted that some issues would also be brought up in the context of the discussion of the Unit’s budget.  On specifics of the report, he urged the JIU to maximize its focus on evaluations that had a bearing on the efficiency of services and the proper use of United Nations funds. 


Regarding the Unit’s work programme for 2002, he wondered about the objectives of several of the Unit’s proposed undertakings, and asked for clarification on several issues.  While he supported the reviews of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the Unit must assure that its Inspectors developed specific objectives.  Inspectors needed to focus more narrowly to begin with, thereby making better use of resources and providing Member States with more timely reports.


Regarding international drug-control activities, he asked how that report would differ from recent studies by the Office for Internal Oversight Services (OIOS).  It was an important issue for the United States, and he wondered what the JIU’s take on the programme would be.  On the report on travel entitlements, how would that assignment differ from the review by the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC) on the same topic?  With regard to reviews of peacekeeping operations, the Brahimi study contained many recommendations to improve peacekeeping that had not been implemented.  Depending on the scope of its objectives, he wondered if the JIU’s evaluation was premature or duplicative.  The study on planning, budgeting and programme evaluation across the United Nations system was also important.  Regarding the proposed report on the impact of zero-nominal-growth budgets on various agencies, what was the genesis of that report?


On the Unit’s annual reports, he noted greater emphasis on cost saving and improvements.  However, while the reports were informative, they provided little sense of the value added by the JIU to the Organization.  On the implementation of recommendations, he noted that the JIU had rightly pinned much blame on a lack of action by Member States.  In the last year, however, the Committee and the Assembly had acted on several reports, in some cases, endorsing all the Unit’s recommendations.  While Member States must take responsibility, it was also the Unit’s responsibility to narrowly focus its work and produce recommendations that could be expeditiously implemented.  As the JIU was an external oversight body, it was important that it function in a way that eased the burden on the governing bodies by providing recommendations that were implementable.


ZHOU QIANGWU (China) first addressed the proposed staffing changes within the JIU, asking how it was possible to assure rational age structure within the Unit with the proposed elimination of two P-2 posts.  Regarding the proposed reports for 2002 and beyond, he wanted to know how the list had been formulated and what standard had been used for selecting the topics of the reports. 


Continuing, he expressed concern over the fact that, according to document A/56/135, JIU suggestions were not always implemented.  The Unit’s recommendations –- for example, those on results-based budgeting -- were of great practical value, and specific action needed to be taken to ensure follow-up on them. 


Turning to the renovation of the United Nations Headquarters, he said that it was a very pressing issue.  His delegation supported the recommendation to encourage and support the host Government and local authorities to provide financial and other support, as well as those for setting up a building assets fund for renovation and modernization of Headquarters.  He also asked if there were any new developments in that regard.  Could delays be expected?  In conclusion, he emphasized that preliminary studies and preparation work should be carried out as soon as possible. 


ABDOU AL-MOULA NAKKARI (Syria) said that his delegation supported the draft resolution on the follow-up system, contained in paragraph 58 of document A/56/356.  Regarding the Unit’s programme of work, he noted with satisfaction that the Unit was going to prepare reports on outsourcing and the use of volunteers.  The subject of volunteers was still being discussed, although it had been submitted at the previous session.  That should be taken into consideration when evaluations were made by the JIU. 


On the subject of multilingualism within the agencies of the United Nations system, he encouraged the JIU to act quickly to come up with the report on that very important issue.  It was especially important in view of the information contained in paragraph 12 of the report (document A/56/84), which said that despite the clear policy decisions calling for strengthening multilingual practices, many institutions continued to lag behind for various reasons.  Due attention should be given to the implementation of genuine multilingualism within the Organization. 


Regarding technical cooperation with the private sector, he said that his delegation was expecting guidelines on the matter from the Secretariat.  Turning to the effects of zero growth on the functioning of the Organization, he said that perhaps such effects should be taken into account as far as both the specialized agencies and the Organization on the whole were concerned.


The whole section on outsourcing was of special interest to his delegation, he continued, and he hoped to receive additional clarifications on the matter from the Secretariat.  It was important that the JIU recommendations on outsourcing emphasized that such activities should not have any impact on staff. Recommendation seven on outsourcing was also important, since executive directors were asked to submit reports on the matter.  That was an important issue.


SUMIHIRO KUYAMA, Chairman of the JIU, responding to questions from the floor, stressed that the first statutory condition for consideration of JIU reports was distribution by executive heads of organizations.  Upon receipt of reports, executive heads should take immediate action to distribute them.  Most executive heads, however, seldom complied with that primary condition.  In many cases, they merely distributed summaries of the reports.  In other cases, they circulated their comments only, without even summarizing the reports.  In cases where reports were either summarized or comments were distributed, it was normal practice for secretariats to suggest that their organizations “take note” of JIU recommendations along with their comments.  These comments were general and drafted in a way that allowed secretariats to use the Unit’s reports at their discretion.  The JIU was engaged in dialogue with a number of secretariats to improve the follow-up system.  The General Assembly’s support in that regard was welcome.  The role of Member States was crucial.


Regarding the issue of reviews of peacekeeping operations, he recalled that the JIU had, in the past, issued a number of reports, most of which had not been acted upon by the General Assembly for various reasons.  A number of conclusions contained in the Brahimi report had already been included in JIU reports.  However, no reference was made to that in the Brahimi report.  He was pleased to report that the JIU had decided to undertake a comprehensive review of The United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET).  The exercise would be conducted in coordination with the OIOS, and consultations were under-way to define coordination and the division of labour. 


On the cost of JIU reports, he said that, although producing reports was the JIU’s main activity, the Unit also produced notes and confidential letters.  Most reports were of a system-wide nature, and required considerable efforts to gather information from both participating and non-participating organizations, such as the World Bank.  After a report was issued, the JIU had to invest time and resources in follow-up, namely, introduction to the many legislative organs.  The JIU expended substantial time on interaction with participating organizations.  For a number of reasons, it was not an easy task to indicate the precise financial implications for the production of a single JIU report.  The Unit was, however, conscious of the need to enhance the cost-effectiveness of its activities.  That was why the Unit was anxious to implement a follow-up system.  On experience with the follow-up system, the JIU was currently in the process of developing modalities to help organizations adopt a standard format as envisaged in its report on the matter.


In response to comments raised on the report on the United Nations University, he said that the JIU had worked in close collaboration with other entities, including OIOS, the Board of Auditors, and the University itself to avoid duplication.  The report was not a duplication but a supplementary effort to augment the reform exercise already under way at the University.  The situation regarding the report on the Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC) was different.  The JIU report was prepared before the ACC had conducted its reform exercise.  Unfortunately, the situation was overtaken by events.  While a report on the United Nations International Drug Control Programme had been included in the 2002 work programme, he was aware of the review by the OIOS on that subject, and the subject would, as such, be deleted from the Unit’s work programme.  On the report of conditions of special-purpose contributions and zero-nominal-growth budgets, these were suggested subjects by secretariats of legislative organs or other oversight bodies.  The validity of comments made today would certainly be considered and the proper decision would be taken in due course.


Regarding the report on travel entitlements, he said the JIU would reflect upon the appropriateness of continuing that exercise and would avoid duplication of efforts.  Regarding the follow-up question, he was encouraged to hear that the question was the responsibility of Member States.  On the abolition of two P-2 posts, the Unit’s intention was not to abolish the posts, but rather to enhance productivity within available resources.  He was conscious of the rejuvenation policy of United Nations staff.  In no way should the proposal to abolish posts be seen as opposed to the rejuvenation policy.  Also, in preparing the programme of work, while some items were requested by the heads of participating organizations, the JIU was entitled to exercise its own judgement.  The JIU was aware of the need to take into account priority issues.


Mr. REPASCH (United States) said that his delegation considered oversight one of its highest priorities.  He thanked the Inspector for the answers provided, but he was concerned with the statement that it was impossible to provide costs of the JIU assignments.  Those should be among the major means of achieving internal monitoring of the Unit.  As for the reports for 2002 and beyond, it was gratifying to hear that the Unit’s proposed programme could be adjusted, and he looked forward to some revisions in order to avoid duplications.  In the future, he would like the annual report to include expected accomplishments and information on progress made.  That was what the United Nations required in its results-based format.  The JIU could do a lot in that respect.  On the management of buildings, he said that the report had come out at the right time, and he would like to endorse the recommendations contained in it.  However, the Fifth Committee should keep it under consideration until it took up the capital master plan.  It would also be advisable for United Nations officials to contact the Office of Civil Engineers of New York, for it could help the Organization to incorporate the city building and fire codes into its plans.


Mr. KUYAMA then added that, theoretically, it was not impossible to include sensitive cost figures in its reports, but it would be very difficult. In any event, he had duly taken note of the comments and would try to accommodate the concerns over the costs of producing JIU reports in the future.


Mr. NAKKARI (Syria) thanked the Chairman for his responses and said that the work of the JIU was welcomed and appreciated, for it was useful and important.  No response had been provided to many of his comments, however. Like other delegates, he believed it appropriate to raise the issue of the cost of producing the reports.  However, he believed that such information should be requested not only from JIU, but other oversight bodies as well.  Requesting such cost accounting only from JIU might give the impression that it was discriminatory against one body among several responsible for oversight activities.  He also reiterated that in his previous statement he had mentioned paragraph 23 of document A/56/84, according to which the JIU intended to provide a report on the partnership on technical cooperation projects between the United Nations and civil society.  What concerned him most was the partnership with the private sector.  When the issue was taken up at the fifty-fifth session, an understanding had been reached on the need to elaborate guidelines to govern partnerships.  Had a report been provided by the Secretariat regarding such guidelines?  Had it been submitted to the General Assembly?


MUHAMMAD YUSSUF (United Republic of Tanzania) said that his concern remained the same:  the Chairman of the JIU had not provided the cost analysis of preparing the Unit’s reports.  Also, according to the JIU 2000 report, there were not many instances, as before, when legislative organs took specific actions on the Inspectors’ recommendations.  That was alarming.  There was no doubt that the JIU was doing its best to execute its mandate, but what was the point of preparing numerous reports that could not be implemented?  Instead of being implemented, most of the reports were only “taken note” of.  That did not mean approval or disapproval of participating bodies.  It was a serious issue that needed to be further addressed.


RAMESH CHANDRA (India) said that he had not taken the floor before, because many of his concerns had been incorporated in the statement by the representative of Iran on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China.  However, he had noted with concern the opening remarks of the JIU Chairman that most executive heads clearly complied with the recommendations.  He agreed with the representative of the United Republic of Tanzania in that regard.  In the informal consultations on the item, it was important to look at the aspect of selective compliance with JIU recommendations.  There was at least one instance when the Secretariat had stated that the Inspectors’ recommendations had been “overtaken by events”.  With the Organization investing in the JIU, the Unit needed to examine ways and means by which its recommendations were accepted by each and every participating organization.  He was aware of the difficulties involved, but greater coordination with other oversight bodies, including the OIOS and the Board of Auditors, could be beneficial.  Specific concerns of the organizations involved should be taken into account, as well as views of other bodies and the JIU itself.  That would result in better reports and ensure greater acceptability of the Unit's recommendations.


Mr. KUYAMA said he was pleased by the comment that cost measurement should be applied across the board.  The JIU would try to do whatever it could do on that question in the future.  On reasons why specific actions by legislative organs were lacking, he reiterated that not many specialized agencies were complying with one of the most basic provisions of the JIU statute -- that of distribution of reports.  The JIU had recently opened a Web site and recent reports were available there.  In most instances, the secretariats of participating organizations took the position that they did not have time to consider JIU reports or that they did not have appropriate agenda items under which to place JIU reports.  It went back to the question of shared responsibility.  Most specialized agencies were represented by technical ministries.  Unfortunately, technical ministers were not often interested or knowledgeable in the question of oversight.  It would be beneficial for the so-called follow-up system to be approved by the specialized agencies.


He said it had been the Unit’s practice when preparing a draft report to send the drafts to participating organizations for their comments, including the correction of technical data.  That was one reason the JIU was often criticized for being so slow.  Once comments were received, the JIU did its best to incorporate comments in the final draft. 


FRANCESCO MEZZALAMA, JIU Inspector, commenting on the report on the management of buildings, said that financial means must be available for the maintenance of the United Nations Headquarters complex.  The availability of financial resources established in the normal biennial budget cycle was not enough to cover the upkeep of the building, especially when it had been so long neglected.  He proposed the establishment of a special fund for maintenance.  The JIU had asked the Secretary-General to present a feasibility study on the establishment of such a fund.  Special discipline would be needed to control the fund if it were established.  The recommendation of the JIU would hopefully be taken into account during the discussion of the capital master plan.


He went on to say that clarification was needed on the idea of partnership with the private sector.  Outsourcing, a typical commercial operation, had little to do with the new notion of cooperation and partnership with the private sector.  The idea had first been launched by the Secretary-General at a meeting in Davos some years ago.  Much ground had been covered since that appeal.  Because of that appeal, which had been well received, there was the need to establish guidelines for cooperation with the private sector.  That had already happened with many of the specialized agencies.  Last year, the question of cooperation and partnership had been moved to the General Assembly.  The JIU was no longer involved in the matter because it could not introduce reports or take part in the debates of the General Assembly.  The Unit could only check on the implementation of recommendations included in its report on cooperation with the private sector, including the need of guidelines.  There was no single accepted definition of civil society, and it was often placed under the same umbrella as the private sector and non-governmental organizations.


Responses from Secretariat


Responding on behalf of the Secretariat, ANDREW TOH, Director of the Facilities and Commercial Services Division of the Office of Central Support Services, addressed the issue of guidelines for cooperation with the private sector.  Such guidelines, indeed, existed and had been posted on the Web site of the global compact. 


On space management, he said that the issue was extremely challenging, because it was highly personal and emotional for many staff members.  It was even more difficult at the United Nations because of inherent structural and organizational issues.  Unfortunately, no elastic buildings had been created yet.  In many cases, it was not possible to apply standards.  In the past year, many attempts had been made, however.  The most prominent of those was the consolidation of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs as a result of applying standards and goodwill.  As a result, space occupancy by that department was reduced by three floors.


Regarding the involvement of the host country, he said that the issue would be further addressed within the framework of the presentation on the capital master plan.  There had been many contacts with the representatives of the host country, both in Washington, D.C., and in New York.  The interest demonstrated by the host had been extremely encouraging.


GARY GABRIEL, Principal Officer of the ACC, said that the ACC and its high-level committee on programmes and management would continue to consider the issues raised in the debate.  He had taken note of many recommendations, including those on the need for transparency in the use of private consulting firms.


Mr. NAKKARI (Syria) said that the explanations provided had been very useful.  He had not been asking about the cooperation with civil society, however. When the matter was dealt with in the ACC during the past session, there had been a request to set up some guidelines on such collaboration.  A report was to be issued in that connection -– not guidelines on the Web site.  He was surprised that it was possible to follow up on delegates’ requests through any other sources but official reports.


The Committee Chairman, NANA EFFAH-APENTENG (Ghana) then announced that Collen V. Kelapile of Botswana and Jasminca Dinic of Croatia would act as coordinators for the informal consultations on the JIU reports.  John Orr of Canada would be conducting consultations on the proposed regulations for officials other than those of the Secretariat.

Proposed Regulations Governing Status and Duties of Other Than Secretariat

Officials and Experts on Mission


EVA SILOT BRAVO (Cuba) said that the question had been discussed for some time by the Committee, for some elements were not clear regarding the relevance of some of the regulations on the status and rights of such officials.  She requested clarification on the proposal to include in the draft regulations new language on the independence of special rapporteurs.  She would like to receive an explanation of why additional comments were needed, when several provisions on the issue were already incorporated in the draft. 


MARIA VICIEN MILBURN, of the Office of Legal Affairs, explained that the additional clarification was included in the text at the request of the special rapporteurs, although the issue of independence already appeared in the text.


Ms. SILOT BRAVO (Cuba) said that the response by the representative of the Office of Legal Affairs had, in fact, confirmed her concern.  She did not understand why additional clarification was needed.  The additional commentary, if included, did not define what the “independence” of rapporteurs was.  A definition would be useful.  While Cuba was open to considering proposals to address the issue, she would prefer that the comment not be included, considering the fact that the draft regulations already reflected that concern.


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For information media. Not an official record.